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Speech - what to expect and when?

The sounds a child is expected to use:

  • By 2 ½ – ‘m’ ‘n’ ‘p’ ‘t’ ‘d’ ‘w’

  • By 3 ½ - ‘k’ ‘g’ ‘f’ ‘s’ ‘l’ ‘y’ ‘h’

  • By 4 ½ - ‘ch’ ‘j’ ‘v’ ‘z’ ‘sh’

  • By 5 ½ - ‘r’ ‘th’ and blends e.g. ‘kr’ ‘gl’ ‘sp’

  • By 7 ½ - all sounds will be used

Common difficulties:

Up to the age of 3, children may still be doing the following:

  • Final consonant deletion: missing off the last sound e.g. the say ‘boa’ instead of boat.

  • Fronting: the sounds made at the back of the mouth (k/g) are changed to sounds at the front (t/d) e.g. they say ‘tar’ for car.

  • Stopping: where ‘short’ sounds (e.g. p, t, d) are used instead of ‘long’ sounds (e.g. f, v, s, z, sh) e.g. they say ‘pish’ for fish.

  • Voicing: where quiet sounds (e.g. p, t, k, s) are replaced by loud sounds (e.g. b, d, g, z) e.g. they say ‘bea’ for pea, ‘dable’ for table.

Up to the age of 5 children may still be making these substitutions:

  • Cluster reduction: missing off one sound where two or more consonant sounds occur together e.g. they say ‘nake’ or ‘sake’ for snake.

  • Gliding: where ‘l’ is said as ‘y’ e.g. they say ‘yeyow’ for yellow.

Understanding language -

what to expect and when


Language development

When to raise concern

12 – 18 months

  • Understands gestures.

  • Beginning to follow simple instructions e.g. ‘point to your nose’, ‘show me the ball’.

  • Responds to own name and some familiar names.

  • No response to voice or sounds.

18 – 24 months

  • Understands single words.

  • Hands familiar objects and pictures on request.

  • Points to up to 5 body parts correctly on request.

  • Carriers out simple instructions e.g. ‘give dolly a drink’.

  • Unable to respond to simple commands.

  • Unable to hand familiar objects e.g. ‘give me the ball’.

2 years

  • Understands 2 key word instructions e.g. ‘give cup to teddy’.

  • Understands objects by their function e.g. ‘which one do you eat/ drink?’

  • Enjoys and follows simple, familiar short stories.

  • Beginning to understand some basic concepts such as ‘more’ and question words ‘what?’ and ‘who?’

  • Only understands the names of a few objects.

  • Does not follow simple instructions or understand simple questions.

  • Echoes constantly.

3 – 3 ½ years

  • Understands a wide range of 2 key word phrases.

  • Understanding 3 key word instructions is emerging e.g. ‘put cup in teddy’s box’.

  • Unable to select object in relation to function.

  • Unable to consistently following instructions containing 2 key words.


Language development

When to raise concern

3 ½ years

  • Develops concepts of colour and size (e.g. big/little or small).

  • Consistently follows instructions containing 3 or more key words e.g. ‘give teddy the big plate’.

  • Understands a wider range of question words, such as ‘where’.

  • Unable to match objects of the same colour.

  • Unable to show understanding of the concepts big and little/small.

  • Struggling to follow longer instructions or simple conversations.

4 years

  • Develops concepts of colour and size.

  • Consistently able to follow instructions containing 3 or more key words e.g. ‘give teddy the big plate’.

  • Understands a wider range of question words, such as ‘where’.

  • Difficulty grasping concepts of number and simple prepositions such as in/ on/ under.

  • Not able to follow age appropriate conversation.

School age

  • Follows some consecutive commands.

  • Understands a range of prepositions such as ‘behind’ and ‘between’.

  • Understands more abstract question words such as ‘how’, ‘when’ and ‘why’.

  • If there is difficulty understanding classroom instructions.

Expressive language -

what to expect and when


Use of language

When to raise concern

12 -18 months

  • Initiating communication by: eye contact; smiling; use of voice to get attention and pointing.

  • If the chid is not initiating communication.

18 - 24 months

  • Uses a range of single words.

  • Uses correct intonation.

  • Uses 20+ words.

  • Using no words.

  • If the child is not attempting to copy words.

2 years

  • Using 2 word phrases.

  • Asking ‘what’ and ‘where’ questions.

  • Using negatives such as ‘no juice’.

  • Uses 50+ words.

  • Not attempting 20 words.

  • Is not fluent i.e. repeats sounds, words sound as if they are getting stuck.

3 years

  • Links 3 words together.

  • May omit ‘little’ words.

  • A vocabulary of approximately 200 words.

  • Asking who and what questions.

  • Beginning to use regular past tense e.g. ‘me falled over’.

  • Not asking questions.

  • If the child is not fluent.

  • If they are not linking 2 words together.

4 years

  • Linking 4 or more words together in a sentence.

  • Large vocabulary.

  • Maintains a conversation with adults.

  • Uses more grammatical structures e.g. ‘and’, ‘because’ and ‘so’.

  • Limited vocabulary.

  • Not linking 3 words.

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